Friday, July 13, 2012
I am just returning to Buffalo after three days at a retreat center in Connecticut for the first gathering of the Environmental Law Collaborative.
Besides my participation in this blog of course, helping to found the ELC (with Mike Burger, Betsey Burleson, and Keith Hirokawa) has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my young academic career. The ELC seeks to foster progress toward an adaptive, conscious, and equitable governance of actions that impact local and global ecologies by engaging the contemporary discourse. The goal of the ELC is to facilitate dialog among thought leaders on sustainable policy priorities, practical implementation strategies, assessment mechanisms, and cooperative analysis of science, economics, and ethics (which is frankly a fancy way of saying we’re going to get together to talk about cool and exciting stuff). We’re also attempting to create a venue for collaborative research and analysis.
With a plan for 10-15 of us to meet every other year to discuss different themes (and perhaps to periodically revisit earlier ones), this year we tried to tackle the daunting topic of re-conceptualizing sustainability in the age of climate change. As climate change continues to dominate dialogues in many fields of research including land use, sustainability is at a critical moment that challenges its conceptual coherence. Sustainability has never been free from disputes over its meaning and has long struggled with the difficulties of simultaneously implementing the “triple-bottom line” components of environmental, economic, and social well-being. Climate change, however, suggests that the context for sustainable decision-making is shifting.
Over three days, 13 of us (yes it is a lucky number) gathered at a retreat center in Chester, CT where we grappled with these issues while sitting outside under a sprawling maple tree and listening to traffic driving by frogs croaking in the pond behind us. Importantly, there was also swimming, hiking, and yarn shopping. We did not figure out the magical way to solve our climate problems or make the world more sustainable but the conversations really pushed the thinking of many of us and we’re planning to figure out a good way to share our thoughts with others. I have a sneaking suspicion that land use issues will crop up in any writing that comes out of this group.